Working in the wine world presents many different types of opportunities for people who are passionate about all aspects of oenology, viticulture and winemaking. The wine industry has grown considerably in the last century, and those interested in wine and the wine industry can choose from many professions to make a fulfilling, exciting and wine-oriented career. From cellar design, to sales, oenology and vineyard management, and there are many different types of careers that people can choose to follow in the wine industry, depending on their interests and abilities and of course their love for all things "wine".
Wine careers, like wines themselves, are dynamic and provide plenty of opportunity to explore the many amazing aspects of wine. Here are just 10 of the professions available:
Be an Enologist or Oenologist
Enologists use scientific processes to study and analyze the grapes, grape juice and wines through the winemaking process; they can test to determine the brix or sugar level of the grapes while hanging on the vine, as well as check the pH and acid levels, tannins, nutritional information and microbial content.
Enologists have a scientific background and use scientific tests to analyze the chemical and microbial make-up of the grapes - they then turn this information over to the winemaker or vintner who uses the information to determine when to harvest the grapes, and how to proceed throughout the winemaking process.
Famed American Enologist, Zelma Long discovered her love of wine when her family bought a Napa Valley vineyard in 1966. After pursuing degrees in Enology and Viticulture at UC Davis, she worked at Robert Mondavi Winery and went on to become the Senior VP of Simi Winery in 1979 and CEO from 1989 to 1996. Noted as being an innovative and dynamic Enologist, she introduced new winemaking techniques and modernized winemaking processes - she also founded both the American Vineyard Foundation and the American Viticulture and Enology Research Network.
Design High-End Cellars as a Wine Cellar Designer
Wine Cellar Designers can work with homeowners, businesses and vineyards to design and plan wine cellars. Not only will they create the floor-plan, they may also oversee the construction. While they do not necessarily have to have wine knowledge, they do have to know how certain wines need to be stored, what types of materials can be used in wine cellars and how to control the environment with temperature and humidity controls in addition to design ability, and an understanding of engineering and architectural principles.
Sommeliers, The Pairing & Tasting Gurus
Sommeliers are professionally trained and certified wine experts. While they have extensive experience and knowledge in wine storage, serving and tasting, they also must have a deep knowledge in viticulture, like knowing the characteristics of all the wine regions and understand the winemaking process.
Sommeliers can be found working all types of positions in the wine industry from sales, as consultants or in high-end restaurants or retail wine shops where they write wine lists and help people chose wines. Ian Cauble who was featured in the documentary Somm, which detailed the rigors of testing for Master Sommelier, was recognized in 2011 as "Best Young Sommelier in the World Under 35". He studied with the Court of Master Sommeliers for 6 years, after receiving a BS Degree in Wine Business. Today he is one of just over 200 Master Sommeliers in the world and uses his experience and certifications to consult with restaurants, hotels and wineries in addition to wine writing.
Sommeliers can often be seen recommending wine pairings, writing about wine and explaining the intricacies of wine character and terroir-driven flavor, much like our resident Sommelier, Christie Kiley.
Lab Managers & Testing
Lab Managers are wine scientists, and they apply scientific and analytic processes and test wine to study and understand the complex chemical processes that occur in wine during winemaking. They also test samples from vineyard field collections for pests and diseases - these tests are called laboratory tests and are more extensive than field diagnostics.
Lab managers can provide input and advice to vintners on how to adjust fermentation to achieve results, and they can also help to develop new processes and procedures. Lab managers can work for wineries as employees or can work independently and consult for different wineries. Lab managers can advise wineries and vintners on new tests, processes and innovations in winemaking. Louis Pasteur is by far the most well-known and historic of wine scientists, as he was the first to identify the complex interaction that occurs in wine during fermentation.
Vintner - The Master Winemaker
We've mentioned the term vintner quite a bit, but what is it? A Vintner is a winemaker, and they direct the entire winemaking process, from harvest to aging and bottling. Vintners must have a broad knowledge base that includes an understanding of the complex chemical reactions that take place during winemaking and know how the varieties they use will taste in the final product.
While vintners need technical knowledge, it can be gained through both experience, education and passion for wine like, Randall Grahm. Grahm began his career sweeping floors at a wine shop and went on to found Bonny Doon Wines, he pioneered the growth of French grapes in California and the use of screw tops on high end wines.
Vintners often have a scientific background, but their skills can also be developed through experience and they typically have a very defined philosophy regarding the way they make their wine and the experience they want their wines to deliver to wine drinkers.
Wine Barrel Coopers & Merchants
Wine Barrel Coopers or Merchants combine artistic and technical abilities as this work requires a thorough knowledge of the winemaking process, the compounds found in oak and the skills of woodworking.
Wine Barrel Coopers make wine barrels also known as cooperage using methods that are thousands of years old. Wine barrels are watertight vessels that are traditionally held together only by the metal bands on the outside of the barrel. Coopers must be able to identify the specific qualities of American Oak, Eastern European Oak, and French Oak and how each will interact with wines made from different varieties. Thye also oversee the selection, drying, cutting and assembly of the barrels.
After the barrels are made, they then can be sold to vineyards and used to age and store wine. As they will work with vineyard managers, vintners and senior vineyard executives, they must be comfortable speaking with people about the technical aspects of the complicated chemical reactions that take place when wine is barrel-aged.
Be a Cellar Master
Cellar Masters are integral to the winemaking process and to the daily operations of the cellar. Unlike the cellar designer, the Cellar Master has to know which wines can be cellared, at what temperatures and for how long.
A very hands on position, Cellar Masters are responsible for making sure that the winemaking process is carried out according to the directions of the Vintner, from before harvest by having the Cellar prepared all the way through to packaging for distribution. This position requires both the scientific understanding of winemaking as well a functional knowledge of how all the equipment in the cellar is to be used and maintained.
Cellar Masters develop teams and co-ordinate the work between the vineyard and cellar workers, especially during harvest and grape crushing. In addition to ensuring the smooth operation of winemaking, they will also manage bottling and aging, as well as hiring and training staff, monitoring inventory and ensuring that the cellar is meeting all the safety and winemaking regulations that are required in their region, these regulations will be monitored by compliance specialists, which we will cover below.
A vineyard manager is responsible for the agricultural production of the wine grapes in a vineyard. Vineyard managers may have degrees in agriculture or have experience running or managing farms, as they will oversee everything that happens in the vineyard with the vines. They will monitor the composition of the soil, manage irrigation, implement weed and pest control measures, oversee pruning, training and canopy management of the vines, while also running equipment and training and hiring vineyard workers.
Compliance Specialist & Viticulture Regulations
Compliance specialists are responsible for making sure that the winery is in compliance not only with regional or national winemaking regulations, but also with all alcoholic beverage controls. Wine is heavily regulated not only by regional restrictions but also because it is an alcoholic beverage, and therefore, it is subject to many different laws.
Compliance specialists need to have a business background and file applications for licensing, label approval brand registrations and pricing. Compliance Specialists coordinate their work with other internal vineyard workers as well distributors and suppliers and must be able to work under tight deadlines to ensure that sales of wine are not interrupted.
Viticulturist, Wine Specialists
A viticulturist studies the science of how and why to grow wine grapes. They have a deep knowledge of the principles of agriculture and understand how soil and climate affect the vine throughout its life and each growing season. Viticulturists may have an agriculture, botany, biology, agromony or chemistry degree or background and can work in research departments within laboratories alongside lab managers or in vineyards as hands-on vineyard workers or managers. One of the most influential viticulturist of the 20th Century, Harold Olmos, was credited for reviving the California wine Industry after the prohibition and went on to become a professor at UC Davis and international consultant.